Wednesday, February 21, 2001

Deerfield puts limits on talk at meetings

Residents get five minutes each

By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        DEERFIELD TOWNSHIP — The Deerfield Township Board of Trustees has instituted a five-minute time limit for any member of the public to speak at its regular biweekly meetings.

        The new policy, which began last month, is intended to shorten meetings and to keep them more focused and professional, trustees said Tuesday.

        With no time limits, many meetings had been running more than five hours.

        “We think it's a fair policy, plus it's flexible,” trustees President Larry Backus said. “Five minutes is plenty of time for someone to make a point. Anybody that needs more than five minute is on a soapbox.”

        Mr. Backus said the township's lack of a formal policy dealing with public comment has created some problems for the board. Last year, trustees had five meetings disrupted by residents speaking out of turn, he said.

        Mr. Backus came close to imposing the five-minute limit at a recent meeting on township resident Lee Hamilton. Mr. Hamilton, a former township clerk, was criticizing Trustee Bill Morand for a letter he had written accusing Mr. Hamilton and former township Trustee Joe Mettey of trying to “destroy the township.”

        Mr. Mettey said Mr. Hamilton was cut off because his comments were critical of township officials.

        “Far too often this board of trustee calls a person out-of-order when that person starts talking about something they don't want to listen to,” Mr. Mettey said.

        Mr. Morand said the time limit will be imposed on everyone, regardless of topic.

        “The intent is not to deny anyone the opportunity to express their views or voice their concerns,” Mr. Morand said. “However, we don't want anyone using our meetings for a political platform, either.”

        Trustee Barbara Reed said the board wants to find a balance between listening to public comment and handling the meeting's agenda in a reasonable amount of time.

        “We would like to pre pare ourselves for having our meetings televised by the (Intercommunity Cable Regulatory Commission), and when they are six hours long that wouldn't go over very well,” Mrs. Reed said.

        Despite the five-minute limit, the public will still have opportunities to speak to the board, Mrs. Reed said. If a resident has a lengthy subject that needs to be addressed with the board, that person can ask the township administrator to put him on the agenda.

        “The presiding officer of the board also has the discretion to let someone speak longer than fiveminutes if he feels the extra time is warranted,” she said.

        Mr. Mettey said he believes the time limit is unfair and infringes on residents' constitutional right to meet and discuss issues with their elected officials. He said if the board is going to impose a time limit on anyone it should be themselves.

        “Those trustees waste more time with their own idle chatter during those meetings than any resident ever could,” he said.


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